Poetry and Form

In this chapter of Naming What We know, this quote about context, forms, and reader’s assumptions on page 35 stood out to me: “Writing, as well, addresses social situations and audiences organized in social groups and does so through recognizable forms associated with those situations and social groups.”

When asked about genre and writing, it is easy to gloss over and list out terms: poetry, non-fiction, historical non-fiction, young adult, romance…etc. However, it becomes slightly more confusing when you wonder about where those genres come from, and what role they play in a work’s intended message, as talked about in section 2.0 in “Naming What We Know”. For example, liked bellow is a poem by Zachary Schomburg titled “The Fire Cycle”. We can review and dissect the poem using the second concept (pages 35-47) covered in “Naming What We Know”. 

A video of Zachary Schomburg reading The Fire Cycle.

A full text of this poem can be found on the Poetry Foundation website.

Without stating this, would you have known that this video was a poem? It is possible that you could have from the rhythm and short form; however, what makes this poem, a poem? (and say, not a short story?) Each genre comes with connotations and specific rhetoric that shape its meaning, and along with input and context from readers, a genre is formed. These genres have various characteristics that tie them together, and are easy to identify when held side by side. It is the genre, the context of the genre, and the context of the subject that form the meaning of the work. For example, knowing that this was a poem already put the content into a different perspective—the writer is trying to say something deeper with a poem. This alerts the viewer that there are particular hints and clues in the writing that convey a different message (possibly) than the one that is explicitly being told. Additionally, it is important for the reader to understand the context of the subject of the poem, to assist in “meaning-making”. For example, at the beginning of the clip, the author says that this is a love poem. How does this change your view of the poem? I chose a poetry clip because I thought this was a good example of writing as a performative act, and as a multi-modal act, which are covered in sections 2.4 and 2.5 of “Naming What We Know”. Spoken word poetry, in this instance, is being preformed on a stage and recorded to be viewed all over the word and at various times. This is also multi-modal due to the visual component of the performance, making the writing both an auditory and a visual medium that can be consumed by viewers. 

On a more separate note, I like the thought that everything is multi-modal and uses this for “meaning-making”. I specifically like this in the lens of poetry, because the viewer makes meaning for the poem, which in turn, brings the poem to life. “The Fire Cycle” doesn’t contain much meaning without viewers and readers attributing meaning to it, because the poem doesn’t contain plot, or frankly, even full and complete sentences. 

Side note to back up my previous point: if you pull up fire cycle in Google, it doesn’t have a meaning, but within Schomburg’s text, it has a meaning that connects to the poem. 

The poem in its entirety, though, in a physical sense, takes on its own form to depict the meaning. The text is one, long, running block of words. This form of poem is meant to be overwhelming to the reader, without leaving any breaks for the reader (or poet) to breathe. This creates another layer of meaning to the love poem, with Schomburg showing the reader that this love that is captured in the poem is overwhelming, heavy, and urgent. 

Works Cited:

  • Adler-Kassner, Linda, and Elizabeth A. Wardle. Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Classroom ed., Utah State University Press, 2016.
  • Bem, Greg. “08-18-09 – Zachary Schomburg – Fire Cycle.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Aug. 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR-azNV884w.

3 Replies to “Poetry and Form”

  1. Poetry is a good lens to look at meaning-making through. You touched on the multimodality inherent to performing poetry, but another angle has to do with the forms the poem assumes and how those forms change our understanding of the words. Reading a poem on paper means the reader must make their own meaning from the text; listening to the author perform the poem gives the poet more agency in controlling how their work is interpreted. Poetry is capable of eliciting different reactions based on the delivery medium in a way that prose cannot.

  2. Lauren, I thought it was interesting and kinda cool that we both referenced poetry in our posts and in much the same way. Is multimodality something you’re interested in incorporating when you teach next year? Do you write poetry? How can a similar relationship of meaning-making be found in prose?

  3. Lauren, so often do I forget to discuss poetry with you. Being that creative writing is my secondary focus, I, too, love the genre, simply because of how much of a different entity it is than other forms of writing. It is within this medium that the readings we have gone over regarding the spoken word and the written word gain context. The delivery of a poem, essentially, “makes” the poem. Is there a specific type of poetry that you are drawn to? I’ve been meaning to discuss this with you for some time now.

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